Michele Roberts puts wine on her strawberries

There ought to be a certain interval before a goat's reincarnation as sausage

Spring: season of trysts and callow fruitfulness. Stephen and I jaunted off to Cambridge to visit my Marx-son Alexander (child of left-wing atheists who invited friends to celebrate the birth by dripping gin and tonic on to the baby's brow). First, to the market. Punnets of strawberries glistened on the barrows. Strawberries have to be coaxed to give out their full taste. If you don't like sugar, drops of orange juice work just as well. Drops of red wine even better. Alexander's father has the best method of all: grind fresh black pepper over them. Strawberries feature early on in Doris Lessing's Golden Notebook, in a scene set in London in the early 1960s, giving clues to character. The two female protagonists lean out of their window on hearing the cries of the strawberry vendor, and

run down into the street to buy some. They eat them with gusto.

They are New Women, with hearty appetites for pleasure.

Alongside the strawberries were fresh peas, broad beans, asparagus and artichokes. I imagined gourmet dons tossing up fricassees printanieres on their return from research sessions reading Elizabeth David in their college libraries. In my student days, we studied the recipes in Cooking in a Bedsitter by Katharine Whitehorn, based on the idea of stacked pots steaming on a single gas ring. Our groovy menus included pasta salads, green peppers stuffed with mince, and what we thought was moussaka. Modern undergraduates, Alexander explained, often forget to eat because they love drinking so much. Plus ca change. Our present to him was a salami and a loaf of bread. We hadn't bought him the goat salami we spotted, because his parents had just got rid of the family goat and it seemed tactless, almost cannibalistic, to imagine eating him. A certain interval ought to ensue between the goat's departure and his reincarnation as sausage. The bread was a pain au levain baguette - a postmodern concept, as evinced by the various breads on the baker's stall. The only English items were some Bath buns and a wholemeal tin loaf. The others were American, Russian, French, Italian and Polish, all doubtless deriving from a factory nearby. We thought about buying a crab, but the fishmonger was cold and cross. We scuttled away.

Lunch at a mid-city pub by the river, punts moored alongside the decking platform, was idyllic: three friends talking and drinking in the sunshine. Our pleasure had nothing to do with the terrible food. I felt like a time traveller, back in the 1970s. "Salad" meant that same old cold pasta, cold tinned sweetcorn, cold mixed beans, a wet wedge of iceberg lettuce, half an unripe tomato. Salad dressing was slime in a plastic bottle. On a punt nearby, Australian tourists cheerily lit their barbecue. Roast pub chef, I hoped.

This article first appeared in the 30 May 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Why Oxfam is failing Africa